By Ariele Vaccaro
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is pulling together an application for a diversion of Lake Michigan water to be used in the City of Waukesha.
The city has been struggling with high levels of radium in its ten groundwater aquifers and has been given a federal 2018 deadline to find a way to brings its residents cleaner water.
DNR reached out for public comment on the application in a series of public hearings this past week. The department is giving the public until Aug. 28 to submit comments.
The DNR made a stop at the Zilber School for Public Health, an arm of the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee, on Tuesday afternoon to hear from a number of residents, environmental groups, government entities, and business representatives.
Reactions from the some 40 hearing attendees seemed almost split down the middle.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett was the one of the first to raise concerns as to the plan’s adherence to the Great Lakes Compact — an agreement between all Great Lakes states meant to keep from over-expending the lakes’ resources. He argued the plan did not adhere to the compact because the service area would not only include the City of Waukesha, but other areas such as Genesse and the Town of Waukesha. He offered that DNR take it back to Waukesha in order to amend it for the compact’s terms. Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele sang a similar tune. To a tumult of laughter, he suggested Waukesha give its households water-saving showerheads. His point: conservation rather than diversion.
That claim wasn’t accepted throughout the room, however. Waukesha Mayor Sean Reilly expressed belief that former Wisconsin Governor Doyle, in contributing to the Great Lakes Compact, had quelled the service area debate two years ago, when the compact was first accepted.
“It’s frustrating that there is argument regarding the state service area,” said Reilly. He argued that Lake Michigan was Waukesha’s only option for clean water.
George Meyer, a former DNR Enforcement Division employee, represented the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.
He argued that former Gov. Doyle’s service area statute only applied to Wisconsin, not all of the Great Lakes states. So, the proposal was in violation of the compact.
Meyer suggested conservation measures be taken instead.
A number of Milwaukee and Waukesha Common Council members voiced their opinions. Waukesha Alderman Andy Reiland saw diversion as the only viable, long-lasting solution.
Milwaukee Alderman Bob Baumann, who chairs the public works committee, disagreed.
“The message we consistently came back was the City of Waukesha just doesn’t have the need for Great Lakes diversion,” said Bauman.
The diversion would cost the City of Waukesha more than 200 million dollars. In its application, the city requests that Oak Creek sell treated lake water to Waukesha, delivered through a pipeline about 20 miles long.
Wastewater would be delivered back to Lake Michigan via Root River.
Waukesha’s water demand currently stands at 6.6 million gallons per day. DNR predicts it will be around 10.1 million gallons per day by the middle of the century.